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Town Center bustles this season

SECOND-TIMERS — Jim O'€™Donnell, father of Ruffhaus Hot Dog brothers Fred and Chuck Knight, serves up some mac and cheese, Chicago dogs and fries to El Dorado Hills Medina family, who ate two meals at the innovative hot doggery on Friday. Left to right, mom Sharon, Joshua, 8; dad Max, Mathew, 5; and Gabriel, 3, with his back to the camera. How’s the food? "Best dogs in town,"€ says Max. Village Life photos by Mike Roberts
SECOND-TIMERS — Jim O'€™Donnell, father of Ruffhaus Hot Dog brothers Fred and Chuck Knight, serves up some mac and cheese, Chicago dogs and fries to El Dorado Hills Medina family, who ate two meals at the innovative hot doggery on Friday. Left to right, mom Sharon, Joshua, 8; dad Max, Mathew, 5; and Gabriel, 3, with his back to the camera. How’s the food? "Best dogs in town,"€ says Max. Village Life photos by Mike Roberts

SECOND-TIMERS — Jim O'€™Donnell, father-in-law of Ruffhaus Hot Dog co-owner Chuck Knight, serves up some mac and cheese, Chicago dogs and fries to the Medina family of El Dorado Hills, who ate two meals at the innovative hot doggery on Friday. Left to right, mom Sharon, Joshua, 8; dad Max, Mathew, 5; and Gabriel, 3, with his back to the camera. How wa€™s the food? "Best dogs in town,"€ says Max. Village Life photos by Mike Roberts

Have you explored Town Center lately? Come on, let’s grab a bite and do some Christmas shopping.

A lot has changed in the last year. Some businesses have moved on, and others have moved in. Even in this lousy economy it just gets better.

On the food front your faves still go strong. Town Center’s gastronomic big guns Bistro 33 and Café Campanile continue to deliver the goods, with Chatara packing them in for delicious Thai food at lunch and dinner, and Mama Ann’s delivering authentic Italian deli fare daily.

Regional favorite La Bou, a salad, soup and sandwich bakery opened in September between CVS and Nugget. Anyone who has ever experienced the addictive “Spicy Thai Chicken Soup” understands why this is an important development.

La Bou managers Anna and Jennie are onsite daily, making sure the muffins are fresh and the soup is hot. They reported last week that El Dorado Hills took its time discovering the new kid in Town Center, but word of mouth and La Bou’s stellar Sacramento reputation have made La Bou a Town Center Marketplace breakfast and lunch destination, providing some healthy competition for neighboring Asian eateries Debbie Wong’s and Asahi Sushi.

Continuing the Asian theme, Wayside Noodles is coming soon to the former Maui Taco location in Theater Plaza. Like La Bou, Wayside has a strong regional reputation for fresh and affordable food in a clean, no-frills atmosphere.

Wayside delivers generous portions of exotically seasoned fresh Thai noodle dishes, served-up fast every day. Slurp slurp, yum yum.

On a different culinary continent, brothers Fred and Chuck Knight, both former Red Hawk Casino chefs, have opened Ruffhaus Hot Dogs on Town Center Boulevard. Their gourmet wieners, mac and cheese, and creative toppings are making a lot of friends. As of last month, they also have beer on tap.

COCKTAIL TOSS – Bartender Aaron Blitvich of Folsom demonstrates his bottle toss technique Friday at SideBar, Town Center’s first genuine night club. The date night crowd was just warming up at 9:40 p.m. The club remains open until 1:45 a.m. Village Life photo by Mike Roberts

Coffee connoisseurs have already discovered Olympus Café, which opened in August. Owner Jorge Gocobachi has a full line of terrific coffee drinks, but before ordering that latte try one of his patented espressos, maybe with a little sugar. It’ll change the way you think about coffee.

Scones are baked onsite fresh daily; try the raspberry. At lunchtime check out the panini. Oh yes.

Jorge’s partner, Valerie Pearson, described the café’s first five months as a learning experience. “We’ve gotten to know our customers, and they’ve gotten to know us,” she said. “We’re constantly looking for ways to provide what they want.”

Fireside Burgers is going strong in Theater Plaza. The Mexican restaurant upstairs became Sir Vesa’s Mexican Grill. Check it out. Original Peet’s, Chili’s and Sizzling Mongolian are all packing them in.

The retail mix is also a variety pack. Melissa and Josh Williams opened Flowers De Amor on Town Center Boulevard in mid November, and left the chute at a gallop. They’re an independent florist and gift store featuring custom designed arrangements and free delivery in El Dorado Hills.

You heard me right. Free delivery. Don’t even ask for free delivery from that Folsom Florist you used last time.

They’ve got the $10 per dozen domestic roses, just like the supermarket. But check out the exotics, like the grapefruit-sized Ecuadorian yellow roses that look like the sun exploding.

A full line of innovative gifts is tucked in between the greenery. Ho ho ho.

Josh is a local boy who met Melissa in Jackson Hole, Wyo., where he spent several years as a high-end building contractor. His work on the Flowers De Amor interior is worth a visit to the store.

Other new businesses to look for: Chase Bank in the former Hollywood Video shop, and Gregg’s Pool Works near Target, both coming soon. El Dorado Hills’ first new age equipment store, The Balanced Chakra, will be opening next to Flowers De Amor.

SideBar night club opened last month next to its always popular mother ship, Bistro 33. Bistro’s new general manager Jason Stratton oversaw the conversion of the former Wine Konnection site into a combination event room and weekend dance club for grownups.

SideBar is open at 9:30 p.m. on weekends, and promises to become a local hot spot, where singles mingle and couples fuel their mojo to DJ jams, exotic cocktails and disco lighting. Yo baby.

Coming off a 100-plus person party the prior Saturday night, Stratton predicted another big turnout last Friday, “date night” in Town Center.

“Everyone loves the vibe,” he said “It’s really pretty mainstream.”

All together, more than 15 tenants have signed on in the last six months, said Town Center boss Tony Mansour. “We’re about 80 percent leased out right now,” he said. Roughly 750,000 of the center’s 960,000 square feet are occupied.

The planned second hotel site, across the street from the New Orleans building, is on hold because of financing obstacles. “It’s the same vision and same ownership group,” said Mansour. “It’s going to happen; it’s just a matter of how soon.

“We learn a lesson every time anyone moves out or doesn’t make it,” said Mansour. “We’re a lot less emotional about the decision making process the second time around.”

Mansour stands by his strategy of filling Town Center Boulevard with independent shops and putting bigger boxes, including Target, CVS and Nugget behind his main street.

Asked to reflect on his progress, Mansour gets dreamy. “My wishes are coming true daily,” he said. “It’s very rewarding for Louis and I to see people from out of the area enjoying what we’ve done.”

The summer concert series helped. Surveys showed that a third of the Thursday night attendees, many of which arrived hours early to get a good spot, weren’t local. Mansour promised more music next summer. But until then shop, eat and enjoy.

mroberts@villagelife.com

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